A Pan-European Approach To Banning Unconventional Gas?

Sat, 2011-07-09 07:45TJ Scolnick
TJ Scolnick's picture

A Pan-European Approach To Banning Unconventional Gas?

A German member in the European parliament (MEP) is proposing a straightforward way to prevent (or outlaw) exploration and drilling for unconventional gas in the European Union (EU). His plan, bypass national strife and instead build consensus for a European-wide ban.

Jo Leinen, chair of the committee on the environment, public health and food safety, is considered one of the most influential MEP’s. He recently told The Guardian that he wants to work on a new energy quality directive that is expected to focus on penalizing and/or banning the extraction, import and use of fuels which are environmentally destructive – namely unconventional gas and even tar sands oil.

While some consider unconventional gas as a clean burning source of fuel, each day seems to bring more and more bad news about its damaging health and environmental effects.

What’s more, the International Energy Agency has found that gas reliance would be disastrous for fighting climate change. This is supported by recent findings from Cornell University which show that over a 20-year period, unconventional gas emissions are at least 20% greater than coal, and maybe as high as 50%.

At the national level, efforts to regulate the unconventional gas industry in Europe have been a mix of success and failure.

France just banned hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), passing both the lower and upper houses of the French National Assembly. While this is a success, a full ban on unconventional gas was viewed as too prohibitive by the governing UMP party and subsequently dropped from consideration before it ever came to a vote.

In Britain, the debate around unconventional gas rages on. Huw Irranca-Davies, the Labour party’s shadow energy minister recently wrote to energy minister Charles Hendry urging him to temporarily ban gas drilling and fracking, at least until the technology and its impacts can be studied [pdf] further.

At the moment, drilling supporters in parliament outnumber detractors. The parliamentary committee on energy and climate change just rejected any possibility of a moratorium on unconventional gas. The committee stated: “We conclude that, on balance, a moratorium in the UK is not justified or necessary at present.” Tax breaks to encourage drilling are still being considered.

Unfortunately, in other countries like Poland, the unconventional gas “barometer of Europe,” drilling is advancing at an “unprecedented speed.” At present, Polish leaders are touting unconventional gas as a pan-European project.

Jesse Scott, program leader with E3G, a British NGO promoting sustainable development, said the portrayal of unconventional gas as the “European solution” is a battle yet to be won.

This fight will soon be waged in Germany, where diversifying sources of energy has become especially important, since parliamentarians recently voted to end the use of nuclear energy by 2022. Without nuclear, Germany will rely more and more on alternative energy options like hydropower, wind and solar, which it already wants to grow to at least 35% by 2020.

With many countries in Europe either reluctant to ban unconventional gas drilling or ready to push ahead with it - and with unconventional gas drillers trying to label their fossil fuel as a green energy source - Leinen’s proposed energy directive faces an uphill struggle.  But it may encounter success at the European level where MEPs previously passed Europe’s “20-20-20” targets (20% less carbon emissions and 20% of energy production from renewables by 2020).

Photo Credit: The Economist

Previous Comments

Is this still a climate blog or is it more a water quality blog now?

While China is doubling coal burning every few years all the concern here is about water quality in developed nations.

Everybody here seems to be dropping the CO2 ball.

Its because the CO2 ball is now made of lead.

The Russian mobsters who control Gazprom must be making payoffs to European politicians at a furious pace, lately. Meanwhile, D’Smog Blog is doing their work for free.

Are you suggesting that D’Smog Blog should be getting some of those payoffs too?

Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking in poor English) is a method to increase permeability in low poroperm/tight hydrocarbon-bearing rocks. It is not exclusive to unconventional gas or shale gas. Hydraulic fracturing, when applied properly in near-surface rocks, does NOT contaminate groundwater. And it never causes contamination if the fractured zone is below the groundwater, i.e. below 200-300 m. For example, we fractured tight sandstones in China at a depth of 4500 m. There is no chance in hell that gas enters the groundwater.

So why has there been contamination? It is simply sloppy operation, that is spillage on the surface, and there should be strict safety regulations in place. But, this surface contamination is not inherent to shale gas, but to any kind of gas independent of fracturing. Did you ever entertain the idea that EVERY wellbore runs through the aquifer?

So, in summary, this hype about fracking while ignoring the real problem is total bogus. Desmogs hystery is totally overblown and reminiscent to the fact-free world of the Friends of Science. Go do your homework before screaming. Otherwise you get no credibility and lose the argument.

Oh man where have you been? The fracking hysteria is not about doing the correct thing, its not about reducing CO2 emissions or saving the ground water, its about ideology. The environmental left knows they have lost the battle over CO2, they now have found a new enemy which unites them, that’s fracking. With fracking, whole new gas deposits become available to exploit which weren’t available before. Small developing countries and communities can use this gas to improve their lives, it reduces their reliance on foreign oil, it reduces carbon emissions, it will eventually become a cheap form of energy. Instead of burning yack dung to cook, they will use newly available gas. Well this new cheap gas is a threat to wind and solar power, it threatens all of the carbon money which might flow to these developing countries, all of the environmentalist’s work for these alternative energies will be lost perhaps for a generation or more. This is not about saving the water supply, this is about ideology.

Yeah I miss the old CO2 articles. They don’t play that song no more.

Imagine how the poor polar bears feel. Swim little bear, swim.

Yea, in Australia it’s Run little Camels Run!!! The OZ environmentalists want to kill you for carbon credits, RUN!!!

Also, gas emits much less CO2 than coal. You should make up your mind what you want.

Isn’t it obvious what they want, by now? They want to end all access to any sort of practically viable form of energy. They won’t be happy until humanity returned to the Stone Age.

No, Desmog are generally doing a good job on AGW denial. And nobody wants to go back to the stone ages. In fact, I consider gas guzzlers that rely on a >100 yr old technology as stone age. BUT, here Desmog are running into the completely wrong direction by chasing windmills. As said, contamination is a problem in some cases but hydraulic fracturing is not as it is not restricted to shale gas and performed at all crustal levels. And has been used for many years. Strict safety regulations must be established and I am sure such exist in Germany, as German politics is based on a social market economy and not on unfeathered free market ideology that characterises the ultraconservative Canadian and Republican politicies.

But by beating the shale gas horse for the wrong reasons, Desmog put their reputation in their fight against climate change denial at stake. They are advised to get some professional advise in that field.

In other words, I am viewing this from a scientific side only.

Really? What scientific evidence exists that supports the idea the human beings can control the weather? Better yet, what scientific evidence exists that supports the idea that human beings can control the temperature of an entire planet – THROUGH GOVERNMENT TAXATION?

I think if you examine your “scientific” beliefs, you will find they are little more (get it?) than ideological delusions.

Humans do not control the weather, however by burning fossil fuels (natural greenhouse gas storage prior to mining), we increase global temperatures. Evidence exists in thousands and thousands of peer reviewed scientific articles which have nothing to do with government or taxation. Same for the laws of physics. Why are you trolling this blog with your lame old fundamentalist denial paranoia?

“Humans do not control the weather, …”

So you admit we don’t control the weather.

” …however by burning fossil fuels … we increase global temperatures.”

And yet now you say we DO control the weather.

Which is it? You can’t have it both ways.

“Evidence exists in thousands and thousands of peer reviewed scientific articles which have nothing to do with government or taxation.”

So if this supposed evidence has nothing to do with taxation as a means to control the climate, where do you get the idea that raising taxes will reduce the Earth’s temperature?

But at least you are admitting there is no scientific basis for believing any amount of government taxation will ever alter the climate.

Gee, now you’re almost starting to sound like – what was the epithet you like to use? – oh, yes, a “denier”.

Your lack of logic and your spin added is truly amazing. Weather is not climate. And scientific facts have nothing to do with policies.

Nobody wants to control the climate or weather but rather stop some unfavourable processes caused by unnatural actions (burning to too much fossil fuel). So we rather try to get the climate back into its natural balance.

Whether a carbon tax helps much is another question. But this is independent of whether global warming exists or not and what causes it.

Of course, low-taxers, Republicans and other ultraconservatives find climate change action cuts into their profits, and hence they fight it. But this is again independent of scientific facts. And not plausible to the mainstream person, typically referred to as communist by the deniers.

Your lack of logic and your spin added is truly amazing. Weather is not climate. And scientific facts have nothing to do with policies.

Nobody wants to control the climate or weather but rather stop some unfavourable processes caused by unnatural actions (burning to too much fossil fuel). So we rather try to get the climate back into its natural balance.

Whether a carbon tax helps much is another question. But this is independent of whether global warming exists or not and what causes it.

Of course, low-taxers, Republicans and other ultraconservatives find climate change action cuts into their profits, and hence they fight it. But this is again independent of scientific facts. And not plausible to the mainstream person, typically referred to as communist by the deniers.

My only belief relating to science is that I believe you have never read any science. And the only ideology in this discussion is your unfeathered free marked ideology which leads to your alarmist statement on taxation.

So you think increased taxation due to global warming mania is merely “alarmism”? Kind of hard to be an alarmist about something which is actually happening – unlike global warming itself, not so much.

Thanks for this. I appreciate that there are subtleties in the fracturing discussion that are not canvassed in every blog post - and I accept that there may be some confusion about where, exactly, the problem occurs. It is important that we try to be clear in everything we write and that we don’t make idle errors that undermine our credibility. I think we also agree that one good result would be a well-regulated industry and one that had to face strict enforcement and accountability for sloppiness. I think, though, that gas fracking is being seen as something of a beachhead - a place to fight against an incremental increase in the dangerous and sloppy exploration for more hydrocarbons. As to the question of whether gas is better than coal, the answer is surely yes. But in raising that invidious choice, you’re not talking about whether we’re going to stop poisoning ourselves, or even going to switch poisons: you’re talking about the level of dilution. The price of gas is ridiculously low in large part because the infrastructure is not in place to accommodate or facilitate its usage. As oil supplies run down, there will be gathering pressure to build that infrastructure - the construction of which will amount to a subsidy for what is, in that sense, an emerging technology. If we’re going to build infrastructure to accommodate a technological shift, I personally am in favor of jumping over gas and forcing the greater (and quicker) consideration of renewables. I “GET” that this is an “impractical” preference. But I also think it’s “impractical” to gear down and drive our communal car over the cliff at a slightly slower speed. At some point, we need to hit the brakes. So, the record shows that industry can’t be trusted to frac without endangering water supplies and that, when caught, they often lie about their complicity. (Who can be surprised when their principal defence is: “Actually, good fracking is safe. It’s just that WE are sloppy and incompetent.”) For me, slamming the door on the whole operation - at the very least until regulation and enforcement is demonstrably in place - would be a perfectly fabulous result.

“It is important that we try to be clear in everything we write and that we don’t make idle errors that undermine our credibility.”

No, but seriously …

Richard,
Traditionally, the volume of oil and gas exploration and production took place either offshore (North Sea, Gulf of Mexico) or in little populated areas. Shale gas brings this to the more populated areas, especially in Europe. But, while nobody was affected by leakage in, lets say, Mongolia, this is now different. Hence the criticism and fear of the population potentially affected. And since the broad population has no technical expertise in rock mechanics and may distrust energy companies (Gulf of Mexico spillage, Exxon Valdez), one is inclined to ask for banning gas drilling in general. A culprit has to be found and that is hydraulic fracturing. And while this could be true in some cases where the shale gas is closely below the aquifer, it is by far not the general case. If regulators consider this while also forcing safety improvements on the surface, then there should be no problems.

So, to be rigorous and acknowledge that sloppy surface procedure is responsible for contamination, Desmog has to ask for a GENERAL BAN OF ALL GAS DRILLING in Europe and other populated areas - which sounds a bit odd. As said, hydraulic fracturing (I dont like sloppy American oil industry lingo: while FRACKING may sound handily negative to you, it sounds linguistically silly to me) is only a populistic strawman that digs into Desmogs credibility.

What I am really concerned with are proposed sour gas wells at the outskirts of Calgary. Sour gas (H2S enriched) is deadly in relatively small concentrations and 250 villagers died in a Chinese borehole breakout in 2004. The sour gas danger is relatively high and it is irresponsible to even propose that in populated areas.

Hey, it’s Wiebo Ludwig.

“In fact, I consider gas guzzlers that rely on a >100 yr old technology as stone age.”

I agree, electric motors for cars were invented around the same time as the internal combustion engine. Electric cars are just as stone age. Cheers

You’d think the greenies would like alternative gas. Its a cheap gas which is available everywhere, it reduces reliance on foreign oil, will improve the lives of billions worldwide and reduces carbon emissions, what’s not to like? This gas is a threat to the enviornmental left, simple as that. It makes wind and solar even more uneconomical, it kills the carbon pollution hysteria, it will save the planet, it helps poor nations improve the lives of their citizens without the help of green tech, the whole business of carbon trading will vanish and all of that money will go with it. So fracking needs to be banned worldwide, under the guise of saving groundwater.

I used to be an environmentalist, not anymore.

‘I used to be an environmentalist, not anymore.’

Something else for you ignoramuses to think about:

Surprise! Fracking fluid kills trees

http://www.grist.org/list/2011-07-12-surprise-fracking-fluid-kills-trees

And the suggestion to read some science is a very good idea for many anymouses and a few others around here and that means wider science than used to gain a PhD in Carbon Chemistry NaughtyNic from NYC. Did that include any physical chemistry including thermodynamics and quantum mechanics I wonder?

But not at 2000 m depth.

will it remain at that depth?

Lionel,
Hydraulic fractures can be controlled in size by dosing the applied pressure. These fractures are steep and their orientation is given by the direction of the maximum horizontal stress AND the differential stress (max. hor. stress minus min. hor. stress). Since the rock volume containing hydrocarbons is three dimensional, depth is an important factor. The most valuable shale gas is actually liquids (a light oil), which is formed at 160- 180C, which means quite a bit at depth. And since this gas cannot migrate without adding artifical fractures, near surface shale gas is rather the exception - it needs tectonic movements (unroofing) as, for instance, the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachians. This is not the rule but rather an exceptional case. And if the gas is sitting so shallow, then there is often natural leakage and groundwater contamination, which results in gas flares out of water taps.

Groundwater aquifers are never deep. We drilled a water well at the northern edge of the Gobi desert and, at 180 m, it was exceptionally deep. And, anything below 500 m is self sealing owing to the lithostatic pressure (otherwise all oil and gas anywhere would have escaped by now).

So, counting 2 and 2 together, we have to make sure that no artificial fractures reach up to that shallow level. And, ok, there should be strict regulations or even banning of drilling in such areas.

Unfortunately, George W. exempted gas drilling from the safe water act, which is unvelievable. BUT, not every country is as backwards in terms of the enviroment as the US. I am sure the EEC has much more stringent rules in place.

So, the criticism of hydraulic fracturing should focus on the uppermost 500 m in the crust.

In the Colbert report, Talisman reportedly had 145 violations in the Marcellus last year. But none of which was specific to shale gas. They would have equally applied to any gas drilling.

Lionel,
Hydraulic fractures can be controlled in size by dosing the applied pressure. These fractures are steep and their orientation is given by the direction of the maximum horizontal stress AND the differential stress (max. hor. stress minus min. hor. stress). Since the rock volume containing hydrocarbons is three dimensional, depth is an important factor. The most valuable shale gas is actually liquids (a light oil), which is formed at 160- 180C, which means quite a bit at depth. And since this gas cannot migrate without adding artifical fractures, near surface shale gas is rather the exception - it needs tectonic movements (unroofing) as, for instance, the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachians. This is not the rule but rather an exceptional case. And if the gas is sitting so shallow, then there is often natural leakage and groundwater contamination, which results in gas flares out of water taps.

Groundwater aquifers are never deep. We drilled a water well at the northern edge of the Gobi desert and, at 180 m, it was exceptionally deep. And, anything below 500 m is self sealing owing to the lithostatic pressure (otherwise all oil and gas anywhere would have escaped by now).

So, counting 2 and 2 together, we have to make sure that no artificial fractures reach up to that shallow level. And, ok, there should be strict regulations or even banning of drilling in such areas.

Unfortunately, George W. exempted gas drilling from the safe water act, which is unvelievable. BUT, not every country is as backwards in terms of the enviroment as the US. I am sure the EEC has much more stringent rules in place.

So, the criticism of hydraulic fracturing should focus on the uppermost 500 m in the crust.

In the Colbert report, Talisman reportedly had 145 violations in the Marcellus last year. But none of which was specific to shale gas. They would have equally applied to any gas drilling.

“Surprise! Fracking fluid kills trees”

That’s not a surprise, the fluid will kill just about anything. Don’t drink it.

I have a question, if the fracking companies switch to environmentally friendly fluids, what will you greens have to complain about then? The compnaies will be switching, there is no question about that, it will ad only a fraction of a cent per cubic meter to the cost of the gas. What will you complain about then?

You gotta come up with soemthing. This should be entertaining.